There may be significant changes in the recommendations for cervical cancer screening in women. A government advisory panel is saying that most women may be able to have a Pap smear every 3 years instead of every year.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is an independent panel of experts that look at the evidence for and against a variety of screening tests. This is also the panel that has recently recommended against routine PSA blood testing for prostate cancer screening.
Right now, it’s generally recommended that women are screened every year with an annual Pap smear. The Task Force, on the other hand, says most women probably only need to have a Pap smear every 3 years, based on the evidence. They also suggest testing should begin at age 21, instead of 18, or the age of first intercourse. The Task Force states that testing teenagers is not that beneficial and can be harmful at that age. In addition, they also say that women over 65, who are at low risk and have had normal Paps in the past, probably no longer need to be screened. As far as HPV testing goes, they claim that there isn’t enough evidence to recommend routine use of HPV testing in women over the age of 30.
Screening more often isn’t necessarily better. Experts say the more tests you do, the more likely you are to get false positives and that can lead to unnecessary testing and procedures. In the case of cervical cancer, that could lead to procedures that weaken the cervix and can cause problems carrying a baby to term if the woman gets pregnant.
Just how effective is the Pap test? The PAP smear has been incredibly successful at lowering the death rates from cervical cancer, dropping it by more than 50% since the 1970’s. The new report is expected to recommend that most women between the ages of twenty and sixty five get a Pap test every three years. Some say that the HPV test is better at detecting cervical cancer, but the Task Force warns that the risks may outweigh the benefits.
When it comes to cervical cancer, there are often no symptoms until the late stages of cancer; this is one reason why routine Pap smears are so important. You should be on the look out for abnormal vaginal bleeding or pain, or bleeding during intercourse.
Cervical cancer that is caught early can usually be cured. If it is more advanced, you may need to have a hysterectomy in which the entire uterus is surgically removed, along with the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Radiation and chemotherapy are used in some cases, as well.
As you may know by now, there is a “cervical cancer” vaccine. This vaccine is available as a series of three shots for girls and young women, which can help prevent infection with HPV. Risk factors for cervical cancer include smoking, multiple sexual partners, and HIV infection. Talk to your doctor or your child’s pediatrician to see if the HPV vaccine is right for you.
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